Have you noticed a mysterious epidemic growing in your building? Are your employees complaining about headaches, asthma attacks, and itchy red skin? Have you experienced an unusual number of fried computers lately? Musty odors?
What kind of strange phenomenon could cause all of these things to happen? The surprising culprit is uncontrolled humidity levels in your building.
Humidity is a key component of air quality. More and more business owners, as well as their employees and customers, are concerned about air quality because it can dramatically affect a person’s health, comfort, and ability to function at his or her best.
What contributes to indoor air quality?
Indoor air quality is affected by the temperature, humidity, ventilation, mold from water damage, or exposure to noxious chemicals. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), some of the most common causes of poor indoor air quality include high humidity and poor upkeep of ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems.
How does humidity affect air quality?
- Bacteria and viruses that cause respitatory infections can more easily multiply and spread in humidity conditions that are either very high or, surprisingly, very low.
- Mold spores, dust mites and other allergens thrive and grow in high humidity.
- Higher humidity can increase the levels of noxious chemicals in the air, including ozone (from copiers) and formaldehyde (released from indoor building materials).
How does humidity affect the workplace?
Poor air quality caused by humidity conditions can cause your employees to experience a wide variety of illnesses and symptoms. Humidity can even cause damage to the building and its contents.
Low humidity is often found in cold winter climates, in workplaces with a lot of electronic equipment that generates heat, and also when air conditioning systems are improperly designed or maintained. In low relative humidity conditions (below about 30%), you will begin to see the following signs:
- People often report sore eyes, dry throats, itchy or dry skin, headaches or stuffy noses.
- Low humidity can also cause static electricity in buildings with synthetic carpeting. Static from carpets can cause people to get itchy, red marks on their ankles, which look like flea bites.
- Static electricity can also bring about computer failures.
High humidity is often found in warmer climates, as well as in workplaces with inadequate ventilation and poorly functioning air conditioning systems. In high relative humidity conditions (over about 50-60% depending on the temperature), the problems can get serious:
- Damp air results in mold growth that not only causes musty orders, but can also cause symptoms ranging from nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation to very dangerous lung infections.
- High concentrations of dust mites can affect people with asthma.
- Warm temperatures combined with high humidity make people feel warmer, and can lead to an increase in heat-related illnesses, including heat rash, muscle cramps, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke.
- Damp air causes condensation to form that can damage indoor building materials.
The majority of adverse health effects caused by relative humidity can be minimized by maintaining indoor levels between 40 and 60%. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends temperature ranges of 68°F to 78°F at 50% relative humidity as comfortable for sedentary work.
How can you control humidity levels?
Building owners need to be vigilant about monitoring and controlling humidity levels to ensure good air quality. Take these steps to prevent sick employees and damaged building structures and equipment:
- Use air monitoring tests to check the temperature, humidity and air flow in each individual space in your building. Humidity levels can vary widely throughout a building and need to be monitored and set appropriately for each area.
- Humidity levels change over the course of a day with changes in the moisture in the air and the air temperature, so you will need to check the humidity levels more than once a day.
- Do periodic walk-throughs to check for odors, leaks and water damage. Remove any standing water in in humidifiers, air conditioning units, on roofs and in boiler pans.
- Monitor employee comfort levels. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the definition of acceptable air quality takes into account the satisfaction of the people exposed.
- Try using the humidex scale, developed by Canadian meterologists to measure the combined effects of warm temperatures and humidity on how hot people feel.
- Make sure that your ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems are regularly inspected and tested for performance according to specifications for your building’s use and occupancy.
Partner with the Professionals to Keep Humidity Levels Under Control
Committing to improving air quality in your building can be a daunting task. If the epidemic in your building is getting out of control, getting the best possible air quality means working hand-in-hand with qualified professionals who understand and can service the equipment that moves the air. A correctly designed and properly maintained HVAC system keeps humidity at correct levels.
A qualified HVAC contractor can perform an analysis of your ventilation system using ASHRAE guidelines to make sure the design is adequate for the space and building occupants. In addition, regularly scheduled maintenance of heating and air conditioning systems is imperative for keeping your systems working effectively and keeping air quality at optimal levels. Consider implementing a Preventative Maintenance Service Contract with an industry-leading HVAC company like Arista.
To learn more about choosing a service contract, download our white paper, HVAC Preventative Maintenance Contract: How To Choose the Right One for Your Infrastructure.